As you may have gathered from almost an entire year of columns about fandom from yours truly, I am, in fact, in fandom. Quite a few fandoms, actually. I am a fandom creator, with many, many years of graphics making, fanfic writing, and shitposting behind me. Right now, I’m in the middle of writing two fics, partly as a part of a personal, truncated NaNoWriMo challenge, where I write 1000 words a day, alternating between an original project and a beast of a fanfic. I’m also trying to write a little bit of another longer fic every day after I finish my “vegetables,” or 1000 words. But I’m running up against a block as I write these two fics: fanon as gospel, more so than canon.
In most of my favorite fandoms, I adore the characters who go from despising each other to either falling for each other or becoming fast friends. Usually, one character is an antagonist, if not an out-and-out villain, and the other one is a protagonist. This isn’t a bad thing, so long as you acknowledge that even the purest of protagonists isn’t perfect. However, in fanon, which is when fans declare their points of view on characters and storylines more accurate than canon, things can quickly grow ugly.
Here’s a point of contention for me: fanon will never surpass canon when it comes to what is true because while you can transform a work more to your tastes, it’s to your tastes, not to everyone in the fandom’s tastes. Fanon is a diverse thing; everyone has a different point of view, but when powerful fans or Big Name Fans (BNF) popularize a particular perspective on say, a ship, even if it goes against most of canon, that fanon can be treated as gospel, and anyone who dares to hew closer to canon can get ignored, or worse, harshly criticized for not obeying, for lack of a better word, the given “rules” of a ship.
Back to my fics: I’m playing with the characters as they are on the shows themselves. One half of the pairing is usually at the other’s throat most of the time, only relenting when they themselves get humbled. In fandom’s perspective, however, one of these ships is extremely grounded in the meet-cute trope and extremely popular in its fandom, while the other one has only a small but vocal segment of its fandom following it. I find myself doubting my own writing and characterization of these characters throughout my writing this month, and seeing as how I’m not letting myself revise along the way—not until December, at least—I find myself second-guessing myself after the word count each day is reached.
A popular critique of a lot of fanfics, for better or worse, is the accusation of “OOC,” that is, Out-of-Character writing. It’s even a tag some writers put upfront on their fics on AO3, as a warning that you might not get what you want if you read the fic in question, whether the fic is actually OOC or not.
Fanon can get weird when it comes to actual canon, too, with fans usually dumping canon in favor of fanon. This happens a lot with big fandoms: see Supernatural, Sherlock, and even the MCU. Fans have every right to criticize canon, and it can be fun to envision a “What if” scenario with canon, but fanon is about as sacred as canon is, which is to say, neither one possesses pure goodness.
Rather, I’d argue, fanon and canon should merely co-exist, with fans not warring over which one is more valid, but rather just agreeing that fanon is fun and canon is the basis for that fun. If a fic or meta writer is directed more towards a canonical interpretation, that’s okay, and if a fic or meta writer is directed more towards a fanon interpretation, that’s also okay. Where we get into trouble is the legalistic demand that a fan creator choose one or the other when crafting their works.
I could write a whole column on legalism in fandom, and in the wider Internet, but I’ll just leave you with this: the author wrote their story that way for a reason, particular to them. That holds true whether the author in question is writing literary fiction, speculative fiction, or fanfiction. It may not be for you, and that’s okay. Fandom is not a uniform space, and it shouldn’t be—that’s part of the fun!
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Co-exist: it’s not just for bumper stickers anymore, it’s also for fandom denizens who engage in fanon vs. canon controversies.
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